Sitting on Lake Geneva’s western shore, the city of Geneva has a natural beauty that is clear from every angle: snowcapped mountain peaks surround the city on all sides and are complemented by parks and green spaces in spades. Switzerland’s reputation for being a peaceful nation starts with Geneva: It’s a global city and center of diplomacy that many international organizations — from the United Nations to the Red Cross — call home.
But look a little further and you’ll find so much rich culture and history here. At the top of any itinerary should be the lake and the Jet d’Eau fountain, which soars 459 ft into the air. Visit in spring or summer for the warm climate and explore on foot as the lakeside promenades, charming side streets and luxury shops beckon.
What to do in Geneva
The best way to experience Geneva is on foot. Don your most comfortable pair of sneakers — The Roger Centre Court from Swiss brand On are not just stylish but ridiculously comfy — and hit the cobblestones. Head to the Old Town first, Switzerland’s largest historical city. At the heart is St Peter’s Cathedral, the adopted church of famed French theologian John Calvin, one of the major figures of the Protestant Reformation.
Climb the stairs to the top to be rewarded with some truly incredible views of the city framed by the mountains. Just next door, Place du Bourg-de-Four is an atmospheric square (the city’s oldest) that is full of character. Look up to spot how the buildings have been extended upwards over the years — a response to the population nearly doubling due to an influx of Protestant refugees in the 16th century — or stop for a drink in one of the many cafes.
To celebrate Geneva’s reputation as the hub of luxury watchmaking, visit the English Garden alongside Lake Geneva. One of the city’s most recognizable icons, l’horloge fleurie (flower clock) is a nod to the industry’s long history. Continue this theme and head slightly out of the center to the Patek Philippe Museum, which houses some 2,500 items. Patek Philippe has made clocks in every shape imaginable, including butterflies, pistols — even telescopes.
As you wander around Geneva, make sure to look out for the inordinate number of vintage designer boutiques, from Hermès handbags and Chanel accessories to Dolce & Gabbana dresses. The weather can be unpredictable, so make sure you have a jacket on hand: Swiss designer Jungle Folk’s New Denim Jacket is made of 100% recycled cotton.
To store all the local chocolate that you will have inevitably purchased (there’s no point trying to resist the sweet call of the chocolatiers), Bally’s cross-body bag will do the trick. Finally, to make sure you don’t miss dinner reservations or museum open times, complete your outfit with a watch from Patek Philippe.
Where to stay in Geneva
A landmark in the heart of Geneva since 1834, the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues is one of the most prestigious places within the city. A harmonious marriage between classic elegance and modern touches, the hotel has some brilliant offerings: a rooftop spa, the Michelin-starred Il Lago, and Izumi, which boasts Japanese-fusion cuisine with enviable views of the city and Lake Geneva.
While all rooms are equally divine and ooze old-world glamour, opt for Suite Léman. Decked out in pastel tones of light blue and beige with traditional French fabrics and antique-style furnishings, this sumptuous suite is the perfect spot to unwind after a busy day exploring.
Where to eat in Geneva
Perched high up in the very heart of Geneva’s Old Town, Les Armures is the oldest cafe in Geneva. Dining inside, you can see evidence of its storied history — the dungeons were used as cellars by a local bishop, and the water-painted scrolls on the ceiling of the Hall of the Knights date back to the 17th century. Enjoy an alfresco dinner on the cobbled street outside, people-watching or admiring the impressive display of cannons outside the Old Arsenal. Opt for the perch, sourced straight from Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and served with salad and a mountain of fries.
Sitting prettily alongside Lake Geneva, with gorgeous views of the Jet d’Eau and mountains behind, Le Chat-Botté is the Beau-Rivage’s one-Michelin-starred eatery. Focusing on seasonal produce, the uncluttered menu is refreshing, showcasing some of the very best (think: white asparagus and morel mushrooms paired with poultry from local farmers).
The hotel also has one of the oldest wine cellars in the city, housing some of the rarest vintages, so make sure to take a peek at the extensive wine list or ask their expert sommelier to select the best match. Pair your locally sourced dinner with an equally local outfit, with a dress from Swiss designer Akris. No dress would be complete without accessories, so opt for a watch by Girard-Perregaux, one of the oldest watchmakers still in operation in Switzerland today.
Inside info: For the best fondue in the city, Dominique Gauthier, head chef at Le Chat-Botté, recommends Hôtel Edelweiss. Enjoy the local delicacy accompanied by traditional live music, or try your hand at a fondue class.
This article appears in the 05 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Fall 2022